Were Citizens Mean to Administrator?

StalinAndStaff.jpgIn a recent post on the discussion of a possible “severance” payment to the former City Administrator, local attorney David Ludescher suggested that perhaps the Administrator had earned this bonus due to his mistreatment by the citizens of Northfield. Ludescher suggested that this goodbye gift was merited by “how difficult we (the citizens of Northfield) made his job”.

I generally enjoy the philosophical depth that David brings to his opinions, however, sometimes he makes comments for which I have trouble following his logical thought process. This one really seemed mparticularly peculiar to me. After all, the Administrator himself only suggested alleged mistreatment by the Mayor, not other elected officials or any citizens. I tried to recall situations where there had perhaps been a difference of opinion between a citizen and the Administrator and how that situation had played out.

The first one that came to mind was Judy Dirks raising her concern about the Administrator allowing the “Prayer Ladies” to use government property for personal purposes. When she voiced her opinion, she was attacked by some of the Councilors. The second situation that came to mind was Alex Beeby raising his concern that although some might have found the Mayor’s behavior in the liquor store process unethical, the Administrator did not have the right to shut him out of the agenda setting process. When he outlined his interpretation of the Charter, he was attacked by some of the Councilors. The third example that came to mind was Lee Runzheimer raising an idea for citizen review of investment policies and capital investment decisions. When he offered his assistance on the matter, he was attacked by some of the Councilors.

I had some disagreements with the former City Administrator myself. I was not supportive of swapping the public library for the city hall, I thought that the liquor store process should be moved to the back burner while more important matters were addressed, and, as always, I wondered why we were spending money on yet more expensive and labor intensive pavers when our streets were filled with potholes.

Mr. Roder took particular exception to my suggestion that the liquor store process be put on hold. His face got all red and twisted with anger; there were several witnesses present. When I asked him why it shouldn’t be delayed he said, “Because it’s ready to go”. I answered, “If you and your friends were ready to jump off a cliff, would you jump?” As always with Al, the lunch ended amiably, with sincere handshakes and that big smile for which he was so well known. I didn’t get the sense that he thought that a citizen disagreeing with him was considered mistreatment.

I’m not sure where David Ludescher found a theory of government where questioning staff’s actions is considered being difficult. It certainly doesn’t fit my understanding of democracy in America.

In fact, in my admittedly limited review of specific situations, the persons who appeared to have had their jobs made difficult were the citizens. When they brought their concerns before their elected officials, which I personally believe is part of their “job”, they were attacked.

Tracy recently wrote a post asking about the important issues in the upcoming campaign. Although the liquor store, street projects, rental ordinance, missing millions, new business park, and capital investment priorities, are all topics of significance, for me, the most important thing to find in a candidate is whether they will listen to, and acknowledge having heard, citizen concerns.

135 thoughts on “Were Citizens Mean to Administrator?”

  1. Jerold,
    Thanks, but I’d be a terrible mayor for plenty of other reasons.

    Oh, and I think David L was wrong, and it was Al who first demanded severance. IIRC it was on the premise that the Mayor had tried to fire him, and if he was fired, he was entitled to severance.

  2. Thanks, Patrick, but you and David L. are the voices of wisdom here. And Jerrold, if this were just a little venting, it would be understandable. We have endured two years of this and there is no end in sight. We are at the point of beating a dead horse, an unpleasant and pointless exercise, made more so when there are so many reasons for hope and so much promise of change.
    So, Roder demanded an apology and didn’t get it. I would guess that if his critics demanded one from him the response would be the same.
    Goodhue will do its work, the council will make its decisions and the voters will have their say. The critics have made their points. People either believe them or not.
    I see no threat to the city, the state or democracy.
    Can we go now?
    I think we’re making history tonight.

  3. So, Ross, after 101 comments, has your question been answered? ( “Were citizens mean to Administrator? “, in case anyone has forgotten).

    I don’t think it has. You gave instances of Admin being “mean” to citizens, but those caused almost no comment. Apparently most think that’s OK; I say those that think it’s OK revere the hierarchy, not the common good of the common cause. Or, as a matter of fact, the “civility” they deplore the loss of.

    Some think the Admin has no need to answer to the citizenry, or to act as if he is their employee. In strict interpretation, he is the employee of the council; by relationship then I think he is an implied employee of the citizenry, who are represented by the council. The staff is paid by the taxpayers; employees are paid by their employers. A city has no “self” but its citizenry.

    It should be noted that during this last year , it did no good to speak to your elected representative about any perceived problems with Mr. Roder, as they were all too busy picking sides in the cases of: Roder vs. Smith, Roder vs. Lansing, Roder vs. Dirks. Is there a common denominator there?

    Ross, you asked a New Englander’s question? Did you get a New Englander’s answer? Did you get any answer at all?

  4. Let’s ask Scott Neal – Scott would you think the people of Eden Prairie were mean if they discussed your Yellow Fever symptoms on line ?

  5. Kiffi- As far as an answer to Ross’s original question, this can only be given as an opinion, as I don’t know how on earth a person could actually quantify “mean treatment”, unlike yellow fever. In my post #78, I gave my opinion, but that is all it is, an opinion. There has certainly been a lot of negatively tinged rhetoric about AR’s term, but I don’t think I could actually call this mean treatment. To me, mean treatment would entail some type of action, like the garbage dumped in someone’s yard last year, or perhaps stalking someone. Again, just my opinion.

  6. Kiffi –

    I am done with this post.

    My research led me to believe that the City Administrator had not been mistreated by the citizens. No one made comments that offered any examples to change my belief. Let me try to be clear, I am done with that topic.

    As is so often the case, the discussion went quickly and forcefully along the lines at what best could be considered “tangents” to the topic of my post. There was little or no discussion of what I believed to be the most important piece of my post, the summary of my findings of my exploration of this issue and its greater context: the Council’s reactions to citizens’ public expressions of their concerns.

    Before posting, I was aware that there was a conflict between the “Pro-Mayor” and “Pro-Administrator” camps but I was not aware that there was a conflict between the “Pro-Police Chief” and “Pro-Administrator” camps. I guess I can be thankful that my base of knowledge has been increased from this experience.

    I think that it is time that we move beyond the personalities of these three people and focus on the real issues facing Northfield. I apologize if I extended the discussion of personalities through my post, I await the final judgment coming from Goodhue County on the matter, and I will not spend any more time debating nuances on statements regarding these three individuals.

    There may be some value in pursuing the topic that I tried to raise in my post. If a citizen has a concern about the actions of the City Administrator, what should the citizen do? There seems to be some disagreement on this matter. If a citizen brings this concern to the Council, what should the Council do? There seems to be even more disagreement on this matter. Finally, moving beyond merely the matter of the Administrator’s actions, how much citizen input to elected officials is beneficial to a democracy. There even seems to be significant disagreement on this matter.

    As we move into an election, finding some kind of agreement on the proper procedure and venue for a citizen’s concern about staff’s behavior, the appropriate treatment of citizens by the Council and an acceptable form of response to the citizens’ concerns by the Council, and, finally, the constructive level of citizen input on a wide variety of topics in the governmental process, I think, could be productive. I would like to believe that such agreement could help the community move forward more quickly and respectfully in addressing some of the significant challenges facing us.

    I don’t think the discussion on the topics I raise in the above paragraph should be pursued in this post. As I suggested a couple of times in this comment, it is time, at least for me, to move beyond this post. Perhaps Tracy can start a fresh exploration of these topics with a more constructive opening than I offered in my post.

    My only advice to her would be: instead of a picture of Josephs Stalin or McCarthy, maybe go with a Norman Rockwell illustration.

    Thanks much,

    Ross

  7. Kiffi,

    Let’s face it, unless everyone who comments in this thread ‘parrots’ your point of view you will never feel as if the “question” has been answered to your satisfaction. Reading this thread, others have cited specifics (i.e. spoke directly with AR and been disappointed with his response; seen AR during Congressional visits and been very impressed with how he articulated and carried Northfield’s concerns forward at the highest level; read the Everrett Report and, unlike you, see facts and substance; read the book ‘Denison, Iowa’ and, again, not reached the same conclusion as yours) that have shaped their impressions. You continue to allude to ‘ghosts’ and speculation. STATE YOUR FACTS — SHARE THE SIGNED LETTER you allege to have from Denison’s citizenry.

    Anne Bretts is correct. The world is charged with history and hope. What has happened is in the past and AR has taken no legal action as of yet — perhaps he never will. AR IS GONE!!!!! If something changes we can revisit the issue. For the time being — MOVE ON! Channel your precious energy into something positive and optimistic. THe citizens who continue to beat this dead horse need to stop being “nattering nabobs of negativism”.

  8. Like Ross, I too am done with this post. All that is being accomplished now is hurt to each other. AR is gone and the citizens will decide the fate LL. It is time to rediscover the goodness in our neighbors.

  9. Once again, in my post #103, I asked Ross if he had gotten an answer to HIS question; I tried to bring it back to the original question, because it was not being addressed, but only being dealt with in peripheral discussions of Mr. Roder’s more distant and recent past.

    Obviously , I also had fallen into that trap.

    But I still believe, wholeheartedly, that it is OUR city, and that the citizens should be listened to by both their elected representatives and their (council’)s staff, even the Administrator.

    Anyone who has something to say, that they consider serious, should come to the council and say it, whether to council or staff… but will they? after what happened to Judy Dirks, when both Staff and Council lashed into her?

    The relationship is what this was about; unfortunately that did not improve in the last 14 months.

    Sorry, Ross … what you started as an honest exploration of the interactive relationship of local officials, their staff , and the citizenry, got way too personal.

  10. Before this topic comes to an end, we should see the signed letter. Why do you still hesitate, Kiffi, since the author gave you permission?

  11. Kiffi wrote,

    Once again, in my post #103, I asked Ross if he had gotten an answer to HIS question; I tried to bring it back to the original question, because it was not being addressed, but only being dealt with in peripheral discussions of Mr. Roder’s more distant and recent past.

    Kiffi,
    I addressed his question back in posts #8 and #10. I believe that unsubstantiated rumormongering is an example of people being “mean” to the Administrator. Others described what they felt constituted being “mean.” If you disagree, fine. But we did address it.

    If you back up your accusations with evidence, and your evidence is good, then those accusations would no longer be “mean” – they would be responsible citizen journalism.

    Want to take the plunge?

  12. Ross: There is no disagreement about how a citizen should raise his or her concerns in a representative democracy – you talk to your elected ward representative, then your at-large rep, then the Mayor.

    If you don’t like their answers, then you run for elected office yourself, or you use the First Amendment to criticize your government’s actions.

    It is not, in my opinion, a citizen’s “job” to attack unelected staff members when the citizen doesn’t get what he or she wants. Even if you think it is your job to attack Mr. Roder, at least use facts, not rumors, so that he can defend himself.

  13. David L: I have a nuanced disagreement from your “no disagreement” flow chart.

    The First Amendment prevails. The citizen can speak to the government official closest to home, the one on top, or anyone in between. Citizens have no rules and no flow charts of whom to complain to. Depending on the issue, it might be more effective to complain to one official or another. For example, if I disagree with the U.S. war policy, I have several officials I can complain to. It’s up to me to decide who is first.

    I think that it’s most useful to complain to policy makers and management about policy issues and severe matters. On police policy, I am less likely to complain to a police officer and more likely to complain to the police chief. If city council makes all policy decisions for Northfield, then they are better to complain to than the administrator who has at best, very limited policy powers.

    On non-policy, non-severe matters, I think it’s prudent to talk directly to the person with whom you disagree. If someone has a complaint about my job performance, I’d rather hear about first. If it’s a severe issue, then I understand why my boss would be a better first choice.

    With these principles, I would agree and disagree with your suggested flow chart depending upon the matter.

  14. Perhaps six pages of blacked out transcript answers might have some thing to do with Goodhue County’s investigation of Mr. Roder.

    At the Northfield public library, behind the reference desk, there is a black binder with copies of transcripts from the interviews Mr. Everett conducted with people related to the Everett Report.

    John Brookins Northfield’s building official was interviewed by Mr. Everett in connection with the Certificate of Occupancy issue for 618 Division: to see if Mayor Lansing had exerted undue influence in that matter. After discussing that situation, Mr. Everett asked Mr. Brookins, on page 13 of the transcript –

    B.E. “Were you involved John in conducting any inspections, or doing any building official work at Al Roder’s house?

    J.B. Yes.

    There follows six pages of blacked out questions and answers.

    If you’ve got the time, the interviews make interesting reading, even though they were spread out over weeks and they are peppered with redactions.

    You can always find something good to read at the Northfield Public Library.

  15. Good Golly Kiffi,

    I am not attacking YOU personally, neither are Patrick or Stephanie — or anyone else. I am a citizen of Northfield. I campaign for candidates I believe in, I cherish my wonderful neighbors, I vote, I attend as many city council and charter committee meetings as I can and I COMMENT — in spite of the “push-back I may recieve”, working full-time, traveling for work and caring for two family members.

    TO EVERYONE WHO READS THIS BLOG MOVE ON.

    How about a thread that focuses on the charitable, good acts of fellow Northfielders — in spite of a difference in politics? I have received and seen it in action first hand. Let us waste no more time, energy on the past negativism. Perhaps we should ALL try to re-mend broken friendships??? Life is fleeting and short — we should not condemn each other as long as poverty and injustice exists not only in Northfield but the world, as well.

    I know better than most that if you leave a day filled with nastiness and disregard for those around you, you may never have a chance to say “I am sorry”.

    To all who read this blog, I am grateful. I so appreciate the kindness and generosity shown me after my husband’s death. I am BLOWN AWAY by the love, support and deep commitment shown to my sister.

  16. Patrick; there is no evidence good enough to not be “rumor” for the entrenched positions that exist. I said long ago why I did not think it right to present letters, etc. I urged people to look at what they had seen for themselves. So… as long as our newspaper refers to the “purported” criminal investigation of Mr. Roder in Goodhue county, no one is likely to gain any accurate perspective without doing some traveling.

    Read some Shakespeare: It’s in Marc Antony’s speech about the death of Caesar, I believe … Something about the evil that men do living on after they’re gone …

    More “vigilante blogging” ?

  17. Kiffi wrote,
    “there is no evidence good enough to not be “rumor” for the entrenched positions that exist.”

    That is a silly thing to say.

    The American Heritage Dictionary:

    ru·mor (r??’m?r) n.
    1. A piece of unverified information of uncertain origin usually spread by word of mouth.
    2. Unverified information received from another; hearsay.

    ev·i·dence (?v’?-d?ns) n.
    1. A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: The broken window was evidence that a burglary had taken place. Scientists weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
    2. Something indicative; an outward sign: evidence of grief on a mourner’s face.
    3. Law The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=evidence&x=0&y=0

    Your word about what you have read is rumor regarding the contents of those articles and that purported letter. Those articles, and that letter – if it exists – would be evidence that could be judged on its merits

    Kiffi wrote:

    I said long ago why I did not think it right to present letters, etc.

    As long as you persist in this point of view, you will continue to merely be spreading unsupported rumors.

    Again, I await your evidence.

  18. Patrick: I’m still offended by your tone of accusation directed toward me. You don’t believe what I say; that’s your prerogative. You have, in my estimation, called me a liar; now you call me “silly”. Most people think I am far too serious.

    Why don’t you evaluate the evidence on your own? Excuse me… I forgot; you think the Everett report is credible. I would find it “silly”, if it were not of such serious consequence.

    Maybe you should read the “support” documents that David deLong mentions, kept behind the desk at the Library.

    And , YOUR use of the word “purported”, is either (1) sarcasm, which Griff does not allow; or (2) accusation, which Griff does allow.

    I only decided to write on this thread because I felt that Ross was really going to be hanging out there, pretty much solo, on this one. It was definitely a bad choice on my part.

    The effects of Mr. Roder ON this community will linger for a long time, in the election this fall, and in the lives of those he has had influence on; on the “entrenched” attitudes of opposing factions of thought … what I consider in my “silly” way to be the serious operating dynamics of a community.

  19. Patrick, again, thanks for your clarity and diplomacy.
    To focus on the solution, perhaps the people who feel wronged can outline what about the process of addressing citizen concerns should be changed.
    Seems to me, routine questions “do I need a permit for this?” can go directly to staff. If there’s a question the staff person doesn’t feel comfortable answering directly, or it will require significant staff time, the staff person should type in the question, with the date and questioner’s contact information, give a copy to the person and take the original it to the council meeting. The council can then address the question and a written answer can be sent to the questioner. The questioner, of course, can come to the meeting and listen to the council action.
    The open mike also seems to be a place where people can raise a concern. The council can listen to the items before the meeting starts. After the meeting starts, the council can run through the list of comments and set them for a future agenda, answer them or choose to receive them without comment. The council should not respond to anyone at the open mike, other than to congratulate people making presentations or receiving awards, etc.
    If the council refuses to set an item for action or dismisses it, the person has the option of bringing it again, circulating a petition to show support, bringing a large group of people to demonstrate public support or go to the newspaper to raise awareness.
    This isn’t all that hard, and I’m sure lots of cities have processes that work similarly.
    I think Northfield has completely lost control over the demands of individuals, allowing them to disrupt city business, squander staff time and leave employees open to harrassment.
    A clear written policy should be in place when the new administration takes office so that we don’t have to go through this again.

  20. Anne,

    Your post is an excellent solution to establish a sound process for citizen input. Let’s hope the new city council will consider it and take action.

    When I read Patrick’s posts I do not read accusation, sarcasm, or “liar”. One cannot “evaluate the evidence” if those who hold the information do not make the evidence/facts public.

    I do not think Ross was solo on this post. In fact, I think some of us agreed with some of what Ross expressed.

  21. Kiffi,
    I am saddened that you think that I am making personal attacks on you. I have intended to criticize your words and actions, not you as a person. I hope that you can understand the difference. And no, passing rumors without also providing substantiating evidence does not make you a liar.

  22. At last, proof of the shameful policies of Al Roder!
    Yes, he’s gone but his legacy lives on…city workers this week recklessly mowed the field near our house without notifying its residents. I fear most of a family of hardworking little rabbits was slaughtered. One tiny orphan wandered in our yard for more than an hour as we hoped it would find its way home. Alas it collapsed in exhaustion at our back step and we took it in. We are feeding it kitten formula and looking for a wildlife rescue person to help it survive this needless trauma. We have found a group in Roseville, but if anyone knows anyone closer, please let us know.
    I demand an investigation! Let’s have the city work with naturalists on areas to be mowed to make sure we prevent more needless slaughter. Let the dogs who use the area for a dog park kill the little bunnies, like God intended.

  23. Patrick: What the heck is a person except their “words and actions” ?

    I certainly don’t want to be defined by my height, certainly not my weight, nor my 72 year-old white hair !

    Look at your last (#120) two sentences … Sorry to say, I think you’re condescending, and I think I’m gone.

  24. Martha,

    This does come across like a personal attack of Kiffi.

    “Let’s face it, unless everyone who comments in this thread ‘parrots’ your point of view you will never feel as if the “question” has been answered to your satisfaction” Post #107 – sorry, don’t know how to do the grey box thing 🙂

    I guess if 10 or so posts actually respond to the original question then perhaps it has been sufficiently discussed. But come on – 120 posts. This thread was agonizing to read. I think given the angst this subject has created it is a good thing AR is no longer in Northfield.

    Jerold – I don’t think we’ve met but I’m glad you are in Northfield. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments.

  25. Adam: Whether the citizens were mean was answered in Post #9 by Ross when he repeated unsubstantiated rumors. The agonizing part has been reading the justifications set forth for doing so.

  26. Excuse me David – I thought I stated that there were some posts directed at the question of this topic. My point was responding to how many went astray.

  27. Adam: Let me be clear: Spreading unsubstantiated rumors is “mean”. Period. Even if Al Roder gets charged with something in the future, Ross’s comments were still mean. Period.

  28. Adam,

    My posts did not go astray, nor did Patrick’s, Anne’s or others. Each and everyone kept asking Kiffi to produce or make available the evidence to substantiate her assertions. In the absence of facts/evidence it appeared that Kiffi wanted compliance from others without having to back up her assertions with facts/evidence she claims to have in her possession. Do you have another way to interpret this?

  29. David L. –

    I did not start the rumors of the former City Administrator being accused of, let’s call them, contracting irregularities.

    You accused former Police Chief of basically spreading rumors just to save his job and dismissed his concerns about the former City Administrator’s actions as trivial, apparently questioning the Police Chief’s motivation and/or professionalism.

    I shared my interpretation, spoken publicly at the time, of the accusations swirling around the City Administrator from the List of 14 presented at the Special Council Meeting and said that I did not consider those actions, as I interpreted them, to be trivial.

    When I started this conversation, it was about the citizens’ treatment of the City Administrator. Based on my personal knowledge and analysis, I did not think that citizens raising concerns about the Administrator’s actions was unfair or mean. You seem to disagree, saying that it made his job difficult.

    Looking back on the past nine to twelve months of meetings with examples featuring the citizens and the Administrator and the Council, I was by far more disturbed by the Council’s treatment of the citizens that by the citizens’ treatment of the Administrator. That was and is my opinion and, to me, the most important part of my post.

    You have, again in my opinion, attempted to shift the discussion to a defense of the former City Administrator at the expense of the former Police Chief or, perhaps more accurately, an attack on the former Police Chief to the benefit of the former City Administrator. Since this thread of comments has begun, I have talked to two different attorneys in Northfield about your feelings about the former Police Chief. I guess I could summarize by saying that they believe that it is unusually negative.

    You have a right to your opinion about the former Police Chief. I have a right to my opinion about the alleged actions of the former City Administrator. You think I was mean about the former City administrator; I think you were mean about the former Police Chief.

    David, I’d like to believe neither one of us is truly a mean person. Let’s move beyond this over-long discussion, await the word from Goodhue County, and perhaps hope that Tracy will do a new post where you and I can debate the appropriate level of citizen input in local government. I think and/or hope that it will be a more constructive contribution to our community.

    There may be another reason for moving on. Pretty soon the whole town is going to be urging you and me to get a life.

    – Ross

  30. Geez, Ross! Are you saying(re.: post #131) that there is actually life beyond LGN?! And to think, you are one of the principles. My confidence has been shaken to the core.

  31. Ross: I agree. You are entitled to your own opinion, even if it is based upon rumors. But, you are not entitled to make up your own facts.

    I am also done with this post. Your readers don’t need to listen to you make up rumors about me, like the ex-Police Chief tried to do earlier.

Leave a Reply to Martha Cashman Cancel reply